“Just like this!” Naomi declared, thrusting her curved sword towards my unsuspecting leg. Following the trajectory of her attack with my eyes, I leapt back to escape the strike.
“Hey, you know we’re sparring, right? You look like you’re aiming to kill…” I retort, parrying her blade as we dart around in a circle.
“What?! Nah, only a total weakling would die from an attack like this." Naomi jumped after me, pouncing with her weapon like a tiger chasing a gazelle.
Still, I was no pathetic gazelle. I was a jaguar. I planted one foot into the sand, spinning my body to feign a hook before slicing upward with my sword. I rested it beneath her chin as she rolled her eyes.
“That was a lucky shot,” She murmured, panting as I rolled my eyes. She’d never been the type to admit defeat, so I was aware that false acknowledgement was merely a pretence. A pretence for what, you ask?
Well, the gleam in her eye would’ve given it away if I hadn’t known earlier. She pulled herself back, ducked beneath and slashed at my side. I would’ve been a goner if I hadn’t gotten accustomed to her fighting style, but luckily I had so I was able to dodge in time.
We fought for a while longer. As we danced across the sand, Naomi began to sweat. Slicing left and right without pause, she manipulated me from one vulnerable position to another, her long red hair swaying with each hit.
“Hey, we should take a break,” I offered, but she shook her head without hesitation.
“Seriously, you’ll tire yourself out if you keep forcing your body to its limits. I understand you’re excited, but they say you should always rest before a big test.”
I felt quite inspirational. I was like a wise sage delivering some beautiful wisdom in his dying moments. Unfortunately, Naomi didn’t quite agree.
“Firstly, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to rest. We’ve got to make sure we’re in top form for the entrance test, and if I didn’t refine my technique now, I’d never forgive myself. Besides, who’s “they”? Because unless you’re talking about Dad, I get the feeling you made that up to improve your credibility…”
Ouch. That was a low blow, but she’d seen right through me. Although it was obvious 'they' never existed. Looking around, it was impossible to make out even the slightest sign of humans outside the cabin. Of any other creature, for that matter.
“Fine, fine, you’re right, we should work hard. But we need a nice break. We should be going pretty soon anyway, right? May as well speak to the Commander before we go.”
The words flew off me, but I could tell they pierced through Naomi more than I anticipated. Despite her enthusiasm, her eyes exposed her reservations as I mentioned the Commander.
“Sure, let’s go now, then?” She nodded casually, but the way she phrased it as a question told me everything I needed to know.
I plunged my blade into the sand and motioned for Naomi to follow me as we entered the wooden cabin. The living room was surprisingly comfortable juxtaposed to the rest of the house. A nice fur carpet coated the floor and complemented some of Naomi's beautiful artwork.
In her younger years, though, Naomi wasn't quite as talented. Thus some rather crude images tainted the otherwise pristine gallery. The Commander was far too sentimental to ever take them down.
Specifically, I sighed as I tried to decipher whether one of the smaller brown drawings was a hippo or a capybara. No, wait, perhaps a Sloth?
As if sensing my thoughts, Naomi giggled, “Oh my god, do you like it? Don’t you think chimpanzees are just so cute! I’m so glad I’ve been able to appreciate their majestic nature even as a kid!”
I stared at her in shock. With her warm smile and curious eyes, it’d be easy to nod along to her every word. However, I was genuinely perplexed. What kind of chimpanzee had four legs?!
“Oh yeah, for sure. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have too much time so let’s save all this for when we come back on holiday, right?” I asked, out of the empathy in my heart to stop Naomi feeling too down about leaving. That alongside a desire to liberate my eyes from this repulsive, Shifter-looking chimpanzee.
Naomi giggled before nodding, taking the lead as she knocked on the Commander’s office. “Hey, Dad, are you busy?”
Of course, he was. Swinging the door open with an enthusiastic grin, Mr. Miyagawa enveloped us both in a warm hug.
I did not return it, as I was a little annoyed by the breach of my personal space. Instead, I sneaked a glance over his shoulder.
He’d made a makeshift bed next to the desk, which was overflowing with battle plans and documents. When he was back from operations, he’d often spend his entire day and night inside this room in pure focus.
I admired him for that, and would always be grateful for what he’d done for me. That said, I wasn’t as grateful for the heavy hug. Whatever happened to boundaries?
Ah, well, I’d give him the pass this time because of the special occasion. I wouldn’t hug him back though, that’s too far even for this.
As he pulled away, he shot us an encouraging look and addressed us both at once. “You’re both the two best decisions I ever made.” He began, his eyes flickering to the sunlight outside as if to gauge the time.
“I used to be a pretty ruthless warrior, your old man.” He delivers the line with a hearty chuckle, but I don’t think ‘used to be’ applies at the rate he’s still working. “But my old age is making me soft.”
He pauses, and I can sense Naomi’s face trembling. She’s brave, determined and has a goal in mind, but I guess everyone feels lonely when they’re leaving home.
Commander Miyagawa is a more reassuring man than me, though, and he moves to twist Naomi’s reluctance into a sense of excitement.
“So, go do me proud! I’ll be out here working behind the scenes for the next few months, but I’m far from retired. In fact, I’ve heard I might be given a batch of Celestial Military kids sometime down the line. Only the best of the best, though. So, should I expect to see your faces?”
With that, he masterfully cements a goal in both our minds. Ending the war is an ambitious, long-term objective, but being able to work with the Commander to do so in the short-term sounds like a perfect goal to me.
Naomi appears to agree, as she stretches her hand to punch me on the shoulder. “Of course, Dad, but you should be more worried about Katsuro. I don’t know if he’s quite up to scratch!”
How rude. If I remember right, aren’t we both equally scratched after our little fight earlier? Still, I don’t say that aloud. The Commander’s words are motivating, and I’ve got an itch to fight.
Although I share some of Naomi's attachments, I can't relate to her. For me, the main emotion I maintain will always be anger towards the Shifters. The more noble goal to save humanity and the less noble goal to enact vengeance on the ones who tore me from my parents are both parts of that.
A little rural cabin is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, my memories considered or not.
“Yo, Katsuro? I didn’t mean it, knock that gloomy expression off your face,” Naomi teases, and I realize I must’ve zoned out.
“Lay off him, Naomi, you know how he is. Katsuro, you feel ready?” The Commander understood and kindly asked for my own opinion in turn.
I nodded, “As ready as I’ll ever be,” and he reciprocated with a confident smile.
“The boats will be leaving anytime now, and I have to get back to work. Naomi, Katsuro? Do me proud.”
And with those parting words, my time living with the Commander came to an end.
After a long hike to the end of the beach, we finally reached the docks. I clutched some Ajuras he gave us - They were small purple gems widely traded in Zhandaria. Gripping the sparkling rocks, I paid a local shipman to transport us.
As the small boat toe through the roaring waves, Naomi and I stared at the distance of our former homeland. Soon, the shoreline disappeared and the beautiful, brutal cerulean seas engulfed us.
“Don’t worry, Naomi, they say absence only makes the heart grow fonder,” I whispered, half-expecting her to immediately shut down my strange quote.
She didn’t and instead reached to hold my hand. On this quest together, I knew we were both at least a little reassured we had someone to come back to.
“Just wait, once we’ve made it to the Reclamation Teams, we’ll come back and have a glorious, happy reunion. It’ll be the greatest celebration we’ve ever had.” Naomi suddenly proclaimed, with newfound vigour. I have to admit that she convinced me.
Unfortunately, she was wrong. My next encounter with Commander Miyagawa would be anything but happy.